Basque Elena Arzak, born in 1969. On top of the restaurant named after her father, for a few years now she's also been directing the kitchen at Ametsa at the Halkin hotel in London (photo credits Coconut)
I get to the elegant Halkin Hotel a little dishevelled, swearing against London traffic, forgetting my lipstick and, as I realise once back home, with my blouse inside out. I am here to meet Elena Arzak, World’s Best Female Chef 2012, at the helm – with her dad Juan Mari – of the 3 Michelin stars, historic restaurant Arzak in San Sebastian, and owner here of the Ametsa with Arzak Instructions within the hotel’s premises. Introducing myself, I tell her that meting her is a privilege, a precious opportunity and also a treat, since – having had a baby 3 months ago – I don’t go out much these days. Elena, who has two children, reassures me: “Don’t worry, there is light at the end of the tunnel and it gets easier” when I apologise for my tired looks.
Easy going, chatty, talking to her one might forget for a second that she is one of the most famous and respected chefs in the world, firm representative of the avant-garde of the innovation of global and Basque gastronomy. Yet when she mentions that a few weeks ago in Melbourne for the World’s 50 Best she was joking with Massimo Bottura at the table next to hers and had Niko Romito on the same flight, things get back into context. I ask her first of all how she’d describe her food to someone like me who has never had the pleasure to try it. “It has a personal style – she answers – with strong Basque roots but with up to date, contemporary techniques that did not exist before”. And with less fat and more vegetables than in the past, a more healthy approach overall. The differences are also in the very same restaurant, which was opened by the family in 1897, and is today a centre for culinary evolution and research.
In the Arzaks' restaurants, Basque roots are made contemporary
Where would she like to open the next enterprise, if she could choose? No particular idea, Elena prefers surprises, and the London opportunity was one; she had never cut ties with the English capital after working here earlier in her career (at Le Gavroche). “Opening here was a way of learning a lot, and adapt our food to the city’s multiculturalism of tastes”. She then observes that the attitude here has changed since the 80s, and gastronomy has socialised; people now make an effort to spend money, almost like a investment. That is also why she cherishes the contact with her customers and makes an effort to talk to people as much as she can, to hear feedback and personal stories of those who often travel miles to taste her food.
The dining room at Ametsa, inside the Halkin by Como in Halkin Street, Belgravia
Reviews, recommendations and trends from the four corners of the planet, signed by all the authors of Identità Golose
A British citizen from Naples, obsessive scuba diver, digital marketing manager Monday to Friday, foodie at any given time